Fifty Shades of Grey

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Fifty Shades of Grey

Well, it was never going to be as bad as many people expected. The worst thing about the notoriously bad novel was the clunky prose – the one thing that (extensive use of voice-over aside) was never going to be in the film version – and the lurid sex was never going to make it past America’s puritanical ratings board. What was left is pretty much what we get here: a relationship drama with a few sex scenes that are no more confronting or arousing (both parties are frequently topless, butt shots are common, don’t hold your breath for much else) than anything you’d find in a late ’80s-era “erotic thriller”.
When 27-year-old Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) gives a brief interview to university English Lit major Anastasia Steel (Dakota Johnson), it’s the start of a relationship that, well, you already know the details because the first third of the film is full of in-jokes about Grey buying cable ties and gaffer tape at a hardware store and how he enjoys a wide range of “physical pursuits”. That’s one of a range of pleasant surprises here; in the early, flirtatious stages of their story the film is pretty flirtatious itself, with a winning sense of humour and a willingness to, if not make fun of it’s characters, at least show them as being aware that they’re just a little ridiculous.
Another nice surprise is that their relationship is slightly more plausible than just ‘billionaire dominates shy schoolgirl’. Steel might be attracted to Grey but she isn’t going to take his demands lying down, and while the sex contract he wants her to sign is pretty silly stuff it does work as a metaphor for the way pretty much all relationships involve a level of negotiation as the parties get to know each others wants and needs.
Fifty Shades started out as Twilight fan fiction and if you squint you can still see the faint outlines of that saga, especially once Grey’s family show up (briefly), but while this isn’t exactly deep or complex material it’s rare enough to see a (western) film that’s just about a relationship that even when things turn serious (not a good sign) it never becomes fatally dull. It’s competent enough that the already announced sequels will almost certainly happen: now is as good a time as any to mount this ride.